View Full Version : How do you approach composition when photographing trees?

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Bill Burk
01-07-2014, 09:47 AM
When photographing trees, my eye is caught from a distance, by some interesting feature.

Maybe the tree is an outstanding specimen in its own right, maybe it is struggling against the landscape. Sometimes it's one of many and there is nothing especially unique, except the way a certain branch hangs down.

After seeing a tree I want to photograph, I will walk right up to it if terrain allows, otherwise I will walk around so I can see if the thing that caught my attention looks better from a different view. Once I have selected the direction, then I look at the surrounding trees and landscape for contrasts or repetitions. I'll back away while looking in the finder until it looks better or worse and then correct.

Then I'll work on the composition of the photograph.

What's your approach?

01-07-2014, 10:19 AM
I don't know but I can't stop photographing them, trees are probably half of what I shoot. I usually walk around til I find a vantage point that eliminates as many things other than the trees themselves.

01-07-2014, 10:25 AM
I use either 85mm or 135mm for capturing trees. What interest me is always the texture of the bark, chaotic arrangement of branches and sometimes whole tree itself.


Some trees, but most of them are d******

I wish I own a tele rollei but I am happy with tele zuikos.

01-07-2014, 11:18 AM
Generally it is the light that directs how I compose and work with trees. Trees are in 95% of my images, but I still more interested in the light.

8x10 platinum print:

01-07-2014, 11:26 AM
What's your approach?

I whip out the binoculars first... just in case there's a bird that needs watching. :D

01-07-2014, 11:49 AM
That is a very interesting question Bill, as often there is no specific compositional arrangement for a tree/s. I think some trees are just photogenic and others not. I have always loved the version below

https://www.google.co.uk/search?q=study+of+a+tree+by+Fox+talbot&rlz=1C1CHFX_en-GBGB558GB558&espv=210&es_sm=93&tbm=isch&source=iu&imgil=JSO2F6LOVgZm_M%253A%253Bhttps%253A%252F%252F encrypted-tbn2.gstatic.com%252Fimages%253Fq%253Dtbn%253AANd9 GcSbP0tVOJfIQYUdLdvteOwof_1s0poAGS96ychHjvY6vBPrKz HpEg%253B420%253B500%253Bh1NWsz7d4GQOWM%253Bhttp%2 5253A%25252F%25252Fwww.gosee.de%25252Fnews%25252Fs how%25252Fid%25252F5657%25253Fgos_lang%2525253Den&sa=X&ei=3yvMUtG6O8qVhQfYrIHoDg&ved=0CD0Q9QEwBA&biw=1280&bih=898#facrc=_&imgdii=_&imgrc=IdBpsFuUVHhGjM%3A%3B8pP0j8OPCKDMMM%3Bhttp%25 3A%252F%252F3.bp.blogspot.com%252F-DhTxl_VkcVI%252FUklAJMrwPMI%252FAAAAAAAAAAM%252FML qCs-4z08c%252Fs1600%252FoakTree.jpg%3Bhttp%253A%252F%2 52Fhannahbroadphotography.blogspot.com%252F2013%25 2F09%252Fhenry-fox-talbot-oak-tree-in-winter.html%3B600%3B689

by Fox Talbot that he made with his calotype chemistry. I think I have seen this tree in the grounds of Lacock Abbey, but not as good as his portrayal. I have sometimes wondered if a better image of a tree could be produced with greater mental closeness (probably not the right term). I have never done this, but have sometimes wandered in the past about sending out 2 groups of about 10 students and asking both groups to photograph trees, but telling one group they must meditate for several minutes on their subject tree before taking the shot. If we were then to display the images from both groups, would the pictures from the meditation group have more presence? I don’t know, but it would make an interesting experiment.

01-07-2014, 02:48 PM
I'm usually attracted to the interplay between the light and the tree(s). So my approach varies with the light.

01-07-2014, 03:10 PM
I approach them from downwind. They are easily spooked.

Poisson Du Jour
01-07-2014, 03:33 PM
For the grand old trees spreading in all directions around these parts, my first worry is finding a lens that is wide enough to get all of the tree in, from the base to the most distant branches. Snowgums are naturally photogenic and can be photographed in-close (e.g. after rain, when it intensifies colour), after snow (texture) or distance (context with the environment). Redwoods are perhaps the most difficult to photograph well because of their height and serried arrangement: a pattern must be established that is pleasing to the eye.

01-07-2014, 03:53 PM
My previous post was entirely flippant, but I do photograph trees a lot.

For me, there is usually a moment when I see a certain fall of light and form that says "photograph". If I don't do it (take the picture, I mean) then and there, but wait and try to get it "just right" then I end up with a photograph of some trees. Rather than the particular emotional fizz of that thing I saw. But sometimes I go back to the same tree or trees, month in and month out, waiting for something to be there. And sometimes it is. and often it isn't.

Regular Rod
01-07-2014, 04:00 PM

They compose themselves. I can't stop myself from looking at them as figures, projecting anthropomorphic ideas onto them that are unjustified, childish and silly but nevertheless that is how I approach trees when carrying a camera...


01-07-2014, 04:03 PM
As I look over my work, I think there is no single answer -- other than perhaps I approach things intuitively. It could be an overall shape, alone or relating to other elements in the frame. It might be a line or curve or group of curves. Maybe an odd perspective such as looking upward into starkly lit branches. I have often been attracted by sycamores with their flaky bark patches, especially highlighted against a deep autumn sky when the trees are bare.

Sometimes it's about texture. A few years back I took a shot of sycamore tree bark trying out my Bronica macro lens. I got in close and captured about a 12 inch square section of tree trunk (it's in my gallery stuff here). I entered it in an art show under the title "Sycamore." It got a modest award from a judge who is a painter and quite outspoken about believing paintings and photographs shouldn't mix in shows. But in her judge's comments she left "What a creative approach to photographing a tree! Only an artist would pick up on the design offered by nature." One of those "gee, did I do that?" moments! It later sold out of another show. Was it carefully planned, no, just happened the lighting on the nearby tree caught my eye as I was sitting in my car finishing a cup of coffee before going for a walk with the camera. The shot was selected from several taken that morning, but I can't recall any formal process to the one picked -- just that "I liked it best."

Sorry -- a lot of blather to say "go with your gut instinct." :)

01-07-2014, 04:11 PM
...Redwoods are perhaps the most difficult to photograph well because of their height and serried arrangement: a pattern must be established that is pleasing to the eye.

My favorite place to photograph; Carbon prints of various sizes (5x7 and 8x10):

Poisson Du Jour
01-07-2014, 04:37 PM
They're quite atmospheric images, Vaughn. I resorted to a 24mm tilt/shift lens on my last visit to Avenue of The Sequoias in Victoria's Great Otway National Park, but still ran into problems getting their 75m height. I swapped to 45mm (MF) with studies of the light and shade on the lower trunks in arrangements (similar to photo 4 in your line-up) and this worked very well indeed. They are huge, graceful, straight and very sturdy trees; planted in 1936 as part of an experimental plot on land that gets a lot of fog and mist, which is how sequoias 'drink', by taking in moisture from their crowns. I will return again this winter for more imaging.

01-07-2014, 04:44 PM
ho bill.

when i photograph trees i tend to see them i several ways.
one might be a compositional element if i see them from a distance
as the get closer to me i see them differently almost like living sculptures
not sure if that makes sense.

cliveh, i totally understand the meditative approach you suggest to your students.
and can see how people have worshipped and have had a religious/spiritual connection to
trees and woodlands ...

01-07-2014, 04:44 PM
All I know is I've been trying since I was 12 for a good tree print...

01-07-2014, 04:54 PM
I go with what my eyes enjoy,regardless of the fact that it is a tree.I generally like an aspect of shape or texture or color..the treeness of it.I dont try to show the whole thing as a specimen documentation.

Sent from my LG-P509 using Tapatalk 2

Steve Smith
01-07-2014, 05:00 PM
I love trees. I even find myself talking to them occasionally!

Sometimes I use my 6x12 camera on its side:



01-07-2014, 05:09 PM
Photograph any ash trees you see around you in the US. They won't be around much longer.

Steve Smith
01-07-2014, 05:10 PM
Photograph any ash trees you see around you in the US. They won't be around much longer.

Why is that?